By Robert Edmonds -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Most coaches will tell you the game is won in the trenches. The battle between the offensive and defensive line often makes the difference in a ballgame in who wins and loses. On Friday night, Warren County hosted James Wood in smashmouth football at its best.
A damp and muddy field from early rains in the day seemed to give the offense of both teams an advantage during the first half as both teams moved the ball with ease. The Colonels, however, were able to make the necessary adjustments to slow the Wildcats running attack in the second half while continuing to run through, over and around the Warren County defense en route to a 41-21 victory.
"We started the night a little slow and came out flat in the beginning," James Wood running back Brock Lockhart said. "We just kept running the ball and we made some adjustments at halftime and we came out fired up in the second half. That really made a difference."
After both teams traded points, Warren County took possession, hoping to add another score with just under four minutes remaining in the second half. The Colonels' defense would not budge on this drive as they stopped three straight plays to force a punt.
The Colonels' special teams rushed punter Ryan Molka on fourth down and partially blocked his punt, giving themselves an opportunity to score again before the half. The offense wasted little time to move the ball. After two runs, quarterback Trae Tinsman found Brandon Shiley for a 24-yard strike.
With time running down and facing third-and-13, Tinsman again went to the air, finding Zach Lloyd for 15 yards and a first down to give them time for one more play. Tinsman took the snap, looked across the field and found Harlan Robinson in the end zone for the first of two passing touchdowns to give his team the lead heading to the break.
"They mix things up very well," Wildcats coach Tony Tallent said. "They are well balanced and they distributed the ball to a variety of players. They have a lot of guys who played last year and by getting some of the experience they have in the playoffs it gives them more time to practice and contributes to their continued success."
The Colonels continued their bruising running attack as the second half began behind strong running Lockhart and fullback Cory Schrock. After moving across midfield, Lockhart found room between the Wildcats defenders for a 27-yard run to give his team first and goal. On the next play Lockhart scored his third of four touchdowns on the night.
"We have some solid players on our team. Our offensive line has some veterans," James Wood coach Mike Bolin said. "We were able to pretty much run between the tackles and those guys did a heck of a job for us making holes for our backs to run through. They take pride and what they do. They expect to work hard through the week and they eat it up on Friday nights when they play like they did tonight."
Still fighting, Warren County opened with a spread offensive set, putting five receivers in the game. The Colonels' defense was not fooled, however, as they again forced a punt. Lloyd blasted through the line and blocked Molka's punt, giving his team the ball on the Wildcats 14-yard line. On the second play from scrimmage, Lockhart scored to put his team ahead by 20 and essentially put the game out of reach.
"That drive down after halftime really took a lot of wind out of our sails," Tallent said. "But I think the real turning point in the game was when they blocked the punt and scored. That was critical and just poor execution on our special teams."
"I can't say enough about our O-line," Lockhart said. "I see them working hard all week and working out in the weight room and it really makes a big difference when we come out to play."
Lockhart ran for 253 yards on the night and Schrock added 98 yards. With the running game forcing the Wildcats' defense to play the run, Tinsman was able to complete 10 of 13 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns. While Warren County managed to gain over 200 yards rushing in the game, the Colonels' defense only allowed 66 yards on the ground after the halfway mark giving their team the advantage on both sides of the ball in the trenches and leading to the team's victory.
"Our defense was lacking in confidence," Bolin said. "It's tough though against two running backs like they have. Those guys are studs and they make people miss. It was big for us to come out and make the stops. We made adjustments at halftime and we had some guys step up for us."
Although his team lost, Tallent felt he saw improvement in his team from last week and feels that his team simply needs to keep working to get better as they approach district play.
"We have to keep getting better," Tallent said. "We showed some improvement tonight from our game against Loudoun County but we need to continue the process. We face a tough Handley team next week and we have to keep working and the biggest thing is to keep getting better."